Menus in Italy?

Dec 12th, 2000, 11:11 AM
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Menus in Italy?

I'm going to Italy in March 2001 for the first time. I will be going to Rome-Florence-Milan-Venice-Sorrento. I know absolutely zero Italian and I have bought a few phrase book to assist.

My question relates to menus in Italy. I'm looking forward to trying new foods, but I want to be sure that I have an idea what I'm ordering and don't want to look like an "ugly American" tourist.

If I can't understand what is on the menu, is it deemed an inappropriate custom or rude to ask an English-speaking waiter what the dish is?

Or, do most restaurants have menus with English descriptions/translations of what the dish is?
Dec 12th, 2000, 11:27 AM
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Carl - there is a little book called "Eating and Drinking in Italy" by Andy Herbach and Michael Dillon, ISBN-0-88496-437-X, $7.95 and I think I got it from Rick Steve's phrase book has a "Menu Translator".

It will make it more fun if you study these, take one with you to the restaurant and also feel free to ask. Only ran into one unfriendly, brusque waiter in 18 days!!

Enjoy - I think you will love it.
Dec 12th, 2000, 11:51 AM
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Carl, I have always found that a language tape helps me get by. I just play it while in my car for a couple of months before my journey... if there are parts you don't deam necessary, (like you don't care of you don't know how to ask for 40 pounds of onions at the market) most tapes have an 'At the restaurant" or similar portion, fast forward to that and just learn a few phrases. I have found this invaluable, however a great many tourist class restaurants have a menue that is both Italian and English, it is always nice to at least attempt Italian, but I found that a great many waiters know some English.
Dec 12th, 2000, 12:04 PM
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Many/most restaurants in tourist areas will have an English menu. Many waiters will be able to describe the menu in English.

The problem is, many of those translations, whether in writing or verbally, are little help. Example: Spaghetti al Amatriciana translated as "pasta with red sauce" (no notion of the spiciness) or Braciola di Maiale as "meat" (instead of pork chop).

Do get yourself a menu book or phrase book which includes menu items AND ...

Study it ahead of time. I can tell you from experience it's almost impossible to use a phrase book to translate a menu and still get your order in before the restaurant closes! Worse, translating and order for two of you ... or far worse still, spouse and four kids.

One fo the greatest pleasures in visiting Italy is the food. Get the book and study it ... you'll enjoy your meals much more.

An introduction to eating in Italy (specifically Rome) at ... you'll enjoy it.

Dec 12th, 2000, 04:26 PM
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Above advice is great. Couple of notes. Many menues are in several languages, and have national flags at the top of each page. For instance, I remember one restaurant we were in with a four page menu. One page had the Italian flag on top, another the flag of Spain, another the flag of Germany and the last the flag of Great Britain. Look for the Great Britain or American flag. If you think it is a little challenging, I began to wonder about the waiter who has to know some "menu" phrases in 4 or 5 languages.
Dec 12th, 2000, 04:47 PM
richard j vicek
Posts: n/a
Good evening, Carl In the large cities
of Italy especially where there are multo tourists, will always have the
English menu and mostly there will be
a waiter with sufficent knowledge of
English to help you order. Comparing
the information in the phrase book to
the menu will work pretty good, if they
do not have an english menu. Don't think it is inappropriate or rude to
ask a waiter, what the dish is. They
are used to any tourists, and english
is the second language of IT, perhaps
if you were Japanese or Eastern European
you would have considerably greater a
problem. Richard of La Grange Park, Il..

Dec 12th, 2000, 05:13 PM
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The phrase book will help, but you probably know more Italian than you think. You will recognize ingredients like mozzarella, prosciutto, zucchini, broccoli di rape, etc on the menu. For one thing the menus have sections for each of the courses - antipasti, soup, salad, "primi" and "secondi." Primis or farinacei are pasta dishes - so if you know that different pasta shapes exist and are familiar with what they are called, there's a start right there.... spaghetti, penne, linguine, etc. And then there will be meat (carne) and fish (pesce) dishes for secondis. In those major tourist cities many restaurants have menus in 5 languages and are used to answering questions. I know lots of Italian restaurants in NYC have menus online in Italian with English translations - you may want to check out menus that way so you have an idea ahead of time of what menus are like.
Dec 13th, 2000, 04:19 AM
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Learn the words for stuff like appetizer, first course, main course, desserts, etc, then at least you'll know what the categories are.
If you're waiter speaks English (learn how to ask in Italian to be really polite) there's absolutely nothing wrong with asking what something is. Just don't expect his English to be perfect.
Dec 13th, 2000, 10:50 AM
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Someone mentioned the book "Eating & Drinking in Italy" -- get it! It's the best menu translator I've ever seen, and it has some good restaurant recommendations too.

Have a wonderful time!
Dec 14th, 2000, 10:29 AM
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Thank you everyone for your responses, they are greatly appreciated.
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